TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Manatees are dying at a record pace. Florida lost 1,101 manatees in 2021 – the highest number of deaths recorded in a single year.

But ZooTampa is not losing hope.
“The population has increased over the last 10 to 15 years and that’s wonderful but to have such a large portion die off, it’s really concerning,” said Molly Lippincott, ZooTampa’s curator of Florida and manatees. “I think if anything it’s been brought to everyone’s attention that we need to be looking out for a waterway I’m really thinking about what we’re doing to the environment.”

Lippincott said ZooTampa’s David A. Straz manatee critical center is rehabilitating 19 manatees for various reasons. So far this year, the zoo has taken in four orphaned calves who have to be hand-raised and bottle-fed.

The goal is to release them all, but the zoo says this record high will have repercussions for years to come.

“We do what we can here at the zoo – we try to make every life matter but it’s devastating to hear so many have passed away from this year alone,” said Lippincott.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s mortality report shows 1,101 manatees died last year, with most dying of starvation. Wildlife officials said this is because of red tide on the west coast and seagrass dying off on the east coast leaving the sea cows starving. The FWC has launched a supplemental feeding trial to help the mammals.

It is illegal to feed the manatees. They are protected under the endangered species act.

In 2020, the state saw about half as many with 637 deaths. The previous state record was back in 2018 with 824 manatee deaths.

“We want people to appreciate manatees while they’re out boating or out on the dock but the biggest thing that you could do for manatees is to admire them from afar,” said Lippincott.